As a rising 3L, Earthen Johnson couldn’t possibly have known that her summer associateship at Drinker, Biddle & Reath would turn out to be one of those “right place, right time” moments.
And yet, providentially, there she was.
Johnson, ’11, spent part of the summer 2010 in Drinker’s Investment Management Practice, just weeks before President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act into law.
Representing the biggest shake-up in the financial world since the Great Depression, Dodd-Frank laid out a massive and complex regulatory framework that placed extensive new demands on mutual funds, hedge funds, banks and other institutions that the practice group represents.
Johnson impressed the attorneys enough to get a permanent job with the practice group, and she went on to become the first Kline School of Law graduate to appear on The Legal Intelligencer’s “Lawyers on the Fast Track” list, back in 2013.
“It has been a huge learning curve,” Johnson said, modestly attributing the recognition to her efforts helping then-Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Kathleen Wilkinson to organize a CLE.
The first few months at Drinker, Johnson was consumed largely with the firm's extensive and intensive training program and drafting client alerts that gave her a grasp of the legal issues tied to Dodd-Frank as well as an awareness that her newfound knowledge makes her useful to the financial industry.
Four years in, Johnson is a mid-level associate named by National Black Lawyers among the Top 40 Under 40 for 2015 who can spot issues on the horizon, even if she needs to confer with partners to figure out the solutions. And she finds herself helping puzzled first-year associates grapple with the complex regulations.
The transition happened before Johnson even knew it.
“Partway to my third year, I realized I was able to completely follow the (partners’) conversations featuring complex financial industry jargon,” Johnson said, her eyes widening with surprise.
Now, when Johnson recognizes the look of panic in the eyes of first-year associates, she switches into mentoring mode, a role that she mastered years before as a teacher and program director for Teach for America in Camden.
While conquering the intricacies of Dodd-Frank, Johnson also learned the importance of making herself useful to partners and more senior associates and helping them look good in the eyes of clients.
“It takes a while before the outside person is your client,” Johnson said, adding that her innate knack for keeping organized “is huge.”
It also helps to be able to craft a viewpoint quickly and articulate it succinctly, skills that Johnson picked up from courses like Trial Advocacy and Improv for Lawyers.
“At the negotiating table, you need to be able to do that,” she said.
And, sheepishly, Johnson praised those hated closed-book exams for giving her valuable experience with memorizing information so that answers can be formulated on the fly.